Lately, the public has seen a huge push to find funding sources for the almost defunct Government Employees’ Retirement System. Suggestions have ranged from imposing new taxes to diverting funds from other sources. With the end of this pension system now measured in a few dozen months, the reality of imminent collapse has finally shaken up government officials.
Described as disastrous, now we are scrambling to avoid the end. In recent months, GERS warned that a 42% cut in benefits could soon be coming. It’s a devastating reality that unless major, decisive action is taken, the system dies in two years.
What is even more frightening, however, is the push to divert enormous amounts of money into the GERS pot without thought to reforming this system that didn’t work.
This would simply be wrong. With the unfunded liabilities in the billions, we could divert our entire V.I. budget into GERS and still not get ahead, nor is this fair to the other needs of the community. Taking money from one pocket to put into another with a big fat hole in it is a self-defeating policy.
Feeding funds into the current system is a waste of good money, unless the system is overhauled and fixed. With assets continuing to be liquidated each month, the handwriting is on the wall.
For decades, this problem was known, but our elected representatives took no action. Warnings have been issued and reissued countless times to revamp GERS. To have a remote chance of survival, the system needs to be dramatically changed. However, change is very hard for officials in our government who know the corrections that are needed are politically painful.
Yes, the whole situation is unfair. There are no winners. Retirees who were promised certain benefits will be hurt. People who are still paying into this system, who right now will never see one cent of their retirement money, will also be hurt. The mistakes of the past are life altering, but we need to move forward with a realistic plan.
Feeding the voracious alligator, GERS, because we are afraid of serious change is never the right way. It’s going to bite us worse than we ever could imagine.
Perhaps the shock of finally recognizing that GERS is on life support will create political heroes in our government, heroes willing to make the painful choices needed for hope.
— Maria Ferreras is a longtime St. Thomas resident and community volunteer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.